Today, I celebrate Spring and how we, as Minnesotans, made it through the toughest winter I can remember. Clearer days are springing up everywhere. Yay!
You know where there’s no spring? In my step. My hips are tight and my low back is stiff. I’ve been going for longer walks than I have in months. After the first one, about two miles, my low back ached and I felt unstable. I’ve heard many yoga students and yoga therapy clients share different versions of the same story. You, too?
I know that I need to stabilize my pelvis and help my body transition from a mostly sedentary Winter into a more active Spring & Summer. My discomfort and yours could be coming from the following:
My thoughts on what’s happening:
In Winter, we walk around in a state of stress. We’re bracing ourselves from the cold and trying to stay upright on the ice. Our muscles tighten as a way of protecting us. Their job is to help us move through the world freely. This Winter stole that freedom.
The sacrum is at the base of the spine – it’s the flat triangular area. The top of it continues on to the lumbar vertebrae and the bottom of it is the tailbone. Our hip bones attach to the sides. You’ve maybe heard of the SI (sacroiliac) joints – the connection between sacrum & iliac (hip) crest. When our walking is impeded by overly tight hips, the muscles of the low back and hips contract and sort of get stuck there. The SI joints hold on for dear life.
In the Spring, we want to be more active. This causes our hips to move more than they might be ready for and that weakens/destabilizes the SI joints. Since the low back and pelvic muscles are intended to help us stand and walk well, when they’re overworked they get extra tight in order to do their jobs. In my mind, I picture this as the muscles trying to grasp the wiggly SI joints and help them calm down. The muscles are working hard. They get tired. We feel soreness and sometimes pain.
My thoughts on what to do about it:
Our bodies are built for movement with freedom and without pain. The good news is there’s a way out of the Winter-to-Spring ouch and it’s probably not what you think. Although a common go-to, I don’t recommend stretching the low back and hips. They’ve already over stretched from increased activity and that’s why they’re tightening. A big stretch is scary to them. They want to hide. We need to gently coax them back into safe function. My favorite way to do this:
You’ll need a yoga block and strap or something equivalent. – maybe a thick book or some other fairly firm object that’s about 4″ wide and a belt or a scarf that you can tie tightly.
Lie on the floor or some other firm surface on your back (not your bed) with your knees bent. Don’t want to lie on the floor? Sit in a straight backed chair, a little bit toward the front of the chair but keep your pelvis level (feel both sitting bones on the chair).Hold the block and attach the strap the way you see in the photo. The strap should be snug but not uncomfortable. Keep your feet on the floor at the width that allows the block and strap to feel stable.
Breathe gently and slowly and notice your low back. Take note of its shape and sensations. Continue the breath and very slowly and gently press your legs into the block and then outward into the strap. You are doing a very tiny internal and external hip rotation while stabilizing your SI joints. Explore the sensation in your low back as you continue with the gentle movement. I usually stay with the movements for a couple of minutes – sometimes longer because it feels good. You’ll need to decide that for yourself. The important things are to be tender with your low back and allow it to stabilize in its own time – if you force the movements, your low back will tense. That’s the opposite of what we want.
When you finish the movements, allow yourself to rest and feel the stillness of your body. When you are ready to get up, transition gently to standing. Take a moment on your side, then seated, and then stand. Give your pelvis a moment to adjust to its new stability before you move on with your day.
My personal practice includes these movements morning and evening. Maybe that’s the right frequency for you, too. If you do the movements once and feel better, that’s great but keep them up for a few more days. Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I couldn’t agree more.
Email me with questions on the above practice or if I can otherwise support you in your seasonal transition. Be well!